The Decision-Making Triangle

bermuda triangleWhen I was a boy, the dangerous mystery surrounding the Bermuda Triangle captured my attention. Sometimes a plane or boat would enter the Triangle only to barely and frightfully get through or to disappear altogether. The riddle of the Triangle remains illusive.

As a Pastor, (and a parent) I’ve become painfully aware of what we might call “The Decision Making Triangle.”  Many of our decision-making journeys have ended with just as many riddles. Is there a map that can help us? 

Yes!

First, we can identify the three edges of the Decision Making Triangle as:

  • The Right Thing
  • The Right Way
  • The Right Time

The Apostle Paul identifies these three coordinates when he gives guidance to his apprentice named Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

1. The Right Thing: Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. [i.e., Make sure that what you do is right and warranted–be able to teach, yes. Correct those who oppose you, yes. But some things that have the appearance of truth and whom others urgently identify as truth, actually turn out to be foolish, off-the-mark, unsound . Make sure what you put your energy toward is actually warranted. Otherwise  quarrels break out and divert you from what truly matters.]

2. The Right Way: And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. [i.e., the thing you do must not only be right but you must also resist quarreling, unkindness and anything in opposition to gentleness. Just because you’ve determined the right thing, doesn’t mean that you can act any way you want toward those you lead.]

3. The Right Time: Patiently enduring evil . . . God may perhaps grant them repentance [i.e., patience is a waiting game. Endurance refers to the long haul. Immediacy isn’t what we value here. The words, “God may” also reminds us that we don’t know a lot. Only by entering the days ahead of us will we learn. Sometimes Jesus has right things to tell his disciples but he waited because they were not yet ready.]

Four Common Decision-Making Errors

  1. Impatience: Forgetting to Account for the Wise Care of Jesus
  • We led with the right thing
  • We led the right way

but we raised the issue at the wrong time.

Forgetting to account for the right timing in our leadership, means that people may have experienced the truth of Jesus and the character of Jesus,  but they did not experience his wise care. We did the right thing but we left a trail of overwhelmed, underprepared and wrongly guilted people who we believe did not keep up.

Hurry and haste wrecked the process.  Rehoboam divided the kingdom because he had no sense of patient timing (I Kings 12).

2. Folly: Forgetting to Account for the Truth of Jesus

  • We did it the right way
  • We did it at the right time

But we did the wrong thing.

Getting diverted when it comes to prioritizing the right thing in our leadership, means that people may have experienced the wise care of Jesus and the character of Jesus, but they did not experience the truth. We cared well for people and we related well to people but we led them to build their house on sand rather than rock.

When this happens, we fall into a ditch of quarreling about things that don’t actually matter or at least they have no warrant for the intensity and priority that we are making of them. Or we happily feel good and sincere about the African Tiger we just freed and cheered for not realizing that for all of our warm feelings, it is feeding time.

3. Equating Personal Preferences with the Right Thing: Forgetting to Account for the Prudence of Jesus

Sometimes no explicit teaching of Jesus informs us. Should we choose this color or that color of carpet or paint? Should we start the service at 9:00 or 10:30 am? In these occasions we must adjust our statement: Instead of “the right thing to do” we must humbly with as much wisdom as we can, discern “a prudent thing to do.” When we act as if a prudence question in which many different opinions can be equally valid has only one “right way” we bind the consciences of people to things the Scriptures don’t. If we are not careful, we put our own personal preferences and tastes on par with the clear commands of Jesus. Unwittingly, we build the team or the church or the group around our own personality rather than on that which is larger and truer than us.

4. Fleshly Fruits: Forgetting to Account for the Character of Jesus

  • We did the right thing
  • We chose the right time

But we went about it the wrong way

 Without kindness and gentleness, even a right thing done at the right time will cause those we lead to experience the presence of fleshly fruits along with the palpable absence of Jesus’s character. We did the right thing but we left a trail of relational damage in our wake.

This is why Paul tells Timothy that he must be kind to everyone, no matter who they are and that he must correct even those who oppose him, with gentleness. This is why Paul reiterates as much and Peter says the same (Gal. 6:1; I Pet. 3:15).

The Savior for us Leaders

I’ve flown into this Decision Making Triangle and often lost my way. But Jesus isn’t like this. He has always led his people as a Shepherd who does right by them. Think about how He has led us! He gives us what is true in the context of his lovely character and with the wise care of his providing and equipping us with what we need at just the right time. He has given you truth, as you are able to handle it, with kindness and gentleness.

Today, give thanks to Him! He lived, died and rose to forgive us leaders from the way we inflict these sins upon others at church and in our homes.

Have you tried to lead with Jesus’s truth but without His character or care?

Have you tried to lead with Jesus’s character and care but without His truth?

Have you tried to lead by misguidedly equating your own personal preferences with Biblical mandates?

Take heart fellow leader! Jesus lived, died and rose to forgive us from these sins. He heals us too, when other leaders have sinned against us, by their crashing into this Triangle and leaving us with only sand to build with, relational damage to work through, or condemnation to overcome. Leaders and followers have a wise savior. He leads us through the Decision Making Triangle. We can find forgiveness, a new start, a new day.

For examples of how this works out in local ministry, read,  The Imperfect Pastor, Chapter 15.

Author: zeswine

Zack (Dr. Eswine) is often spoken of as a "Pastor to Pastors." He serves as Pastor of Riverside Church in Webster Groves Missouri and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. To learn more about his books and other resources, go to zackeswine.com

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